In the lead up of Sheets of Sound composers Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh and Matthias Schack-Arnott gave some of their precious time to do a Q&A with us.
Could you let us delve into your world and tell us more about your practice?
Matthias Schack-Arnott | I’m a percussive artist that creates work that often exists between installation and performance. I collaborate with architects, engineers and technicians to create works that explore the intersection between sound, space and time.
Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh | I am a composer of mostly instrumental works in acoustic and electroacoustic mediums. I like to think about music in terms of spatial and gestural choreography, interdisciplinarity, as well as the reciprocal (and tangible) relationship between the performer, composer, and audience, in the delivery of a musical work.
What inspires you? (Maybe describe a real-life situation that has inspired you)
MSA | My favourite way of calming the mind and letting new ideas emerge is to go for walks alongside rivers or creeks. There’s something about flowing water that helps me move through perceived limits and mental blockages.
AHHH | I don’t think I am alone in saying that inspirations can be found in many places and in many forms. However, my recent works have been focusing more deliberately on issues in the current world, especially in environmental concerns and bizarre happenings in the global political circus. This new piece for Louise, for instance, is inspired by Bruno Latour’s bookDown to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime in which he names climate change as the key agent that triggered the growing number of conservative political decisions in protecting one’s borders and resources against foreigners and refugees, who often come to seek help after losing their own homeland due to climate change and/or other political circumstances. This piece very much takes the idea and developed it to present the shifting of landscapes and collapsing borders – in visual, spatial and musical ways.
Your compositions always have interesting installations. How do you come to them? How do you choose the instruments and other mediums?
MSA | In any given project I’m usually exploring a particular mode of sound making, whether it be cyclic motion, the friction of an object moving against another object, or in the piece for Louise, tremor patterns. I’m particularly drawn to ways of making sound that have some kind of visceral kinetic energy.
AHHH | As a composer of mostly instrumental music, installation is still a fairly new medium in my practice but is one I would love to pursue further in the future. I am very fond of installation art, especially the way sound is incorporated as one of the many material layers in experiencing the work. Learning about the practice has definitely shaped the way I think about composition, and the possibility of creating pieces that can be experienced through a multi-modal, multi-medium way while rooting strongly in the practice of organizing sound.
Most of the instruments are selected either for their sonic properties or how they fit the conceptual design of the piece. In Permeating through the pores of shifting planes, the choice of paper and sheets of materials arose from a wish to explore the sonic properties of paper – an daily object that is unassumingly sonorous (think flipping through books, adjusting the parchment paper on the baking tray, or the sounds of students feverishly writing on the exam paper, in a dead-quiet room).
The choice of silver acetate sheet came from a casual visit to an art supplies shop in Pittsburgh that was emptying its stock before closing down. Aside from exploring its sonic properties, I was fascinated by the refraction pattern it casts when light shines at it. The tracing paper (a specific 95 gsm grade) is also a material picked up from my multiple visits to paper shops, in an attempt to find “noisy” paper that not only is pleasant and interesting to look at, but also has some the potential to create interesting sonic texture with. The bell plates were chosen to match the silver rectangular panels of the acetate sheets, but with a completely different palette of sonic possibilities.
I try to avoid symbolism at all cost, however, in this piece, there is one visual element at the end that is explicitly used to tie the sound world, dramaturgy and conceptual framework together for a final presentation.
What are some memorable responses you have had to your work?
MSA | I’ve had people moved to tears performances of my work, which can be quite unexpected because of its experimental nature. But it’s nice to know that it’s possible to get such a strong emotional response.
AHHH | A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for two percussionists and setup of glass objects and I asked a close friend to come to be my pair of objective ears at the dress rehearsal. The piece involved many different ways of pouring marbles, rice and beans onto, and into a collection of wine glasses, glass bottles, little cups, and tiny saucers.
Unsure of my first foray into using daily objects as instruments, I eagerly turned to my friend as the last sound of the run-through faded, desperately seeking solace in her sage advice and critiques. Yet she sat in silent and avoided my thirsty eyes.
Then she said to me with a slightly choked-up voice: “This reminded me of what my father and I used to do together. Putting coins into a glass jar of screws and try to take them out carefully again, as a way of keeping me entertained.”
The piece wasn’t about that, in fact, it wasn’t about anything particular, and it might be simply the circumstance and the visual presentation that evoked her emotions, not the music. But the fact that it spoke to a piece of her own treasured memory made it one of the most precious remarks I’ve had the privilege to encounter about my work.
How did you go about developing a new composition for Louise?
MSA | I’ve been exploring vibrational tremor patterns with percussion for three years now, but this is the first time that I’ve used vibrations on an actual bass drum. The beginning phase of the work was very open-ended, exploring the different sonic possibilities of low frequency vibration on clusters of glass, crotales, ball bearings, and strewn material. Then it was a process of narrowing down on the specific identity of this work by notating ideas and developing the corresponding electronics part.
AHHH | Writing a piece for a performer as multi-faceted as Louise was exhilarating and the collaboration has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. There were a lot of communications between Louise and me throughout the entire process. From the commissioning, conceptualizing, sourcing the instruments, to video clips of my experiments, her playings and the audio recordings of the new bell plates she had made for the project, we were on the same page through every step of the way.
I felt very encouraged and supported to experiment with this new format of installation-composition which I haven’t had an opportunity to try, all thanks to Louise’s open-mindedness and willingness to explore the unknown and unfamiliar with me!
What are you hoping the audience leave with after experiencing Sheets of Sound?
MSA | I hope that the music speaks to them in some way.
AHHH | I hope that they leave the show with a refreshed perspective in the possibilities of live musical performance, full of the wonderment that stays and swirls within them for a long time after.
Sheets of Sound is on Friday 28 & Saturday 29 June 2019, 7.30pm at PICA
Follow Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh and Matthias Schack-Arnott‘s journeys on their channels.
Image: Photo by Rachael Barrett